Speaking with Leo Melamed, a man who had journeyed across the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway within a few months of Dad was a wonderful opportunity to piece together the puzzle of my father’s trip back to New Jersey in 1941. Wouldn’t it be great if I could find another person who took that train but may have been a bit older at the time?
There are no manifests for that trip on ancestry.com or any other site. However, I did have a list of fifteen American passports issued during the month of April, which is when Dad got his. My strategy was to concentrate first on male names since I knew there was a good chance that any females would be recorded under their married names. That narrowed the list to seven. My first stop on the search was the Social Security Death Index on ancestry.com. I then was able to eliminate those men who were deceased.
Next, I reviewed Ancestry’s Immigration and Passenger Lists looking for a match, and I found one- a man named Jerry, who I calculated to be 87 now and a teenager in 1941. That was perfect!
I proceeded to another rarely-mentioned search site, www.peoplefinders.com. (US-based only) What that site gives you are previous locations and possible relatives of the individual being searched. Try it on your own name. I was quite shocked when I saw how accurate it was!
I assumed that it was unlikely that Jerry would be on Facebook, so I returned to my friend Google, searching on one of the possible relatives I located on peoplefinder.com. I found a woman who is a teacher at a college, so her email address was readily available. I crafted a letter, explaining who I was and why I was writing to her. I attached the passport list that had the name of whom I believed to be her father, which I used as the subject of the email “Your Father (?) – Possible Connection to My Father.” It is important when sending out emails to strangers to have the subject such that the reader will open the email. If you have a picture that you can include, that is even better.
Four days later I opened my email to find a letter from Jerry! I was both excited because I had actually found him and also because I had located an eighty-seven year old man savvy with current technology. Most exciting was that he had ridden the Trans-Siberian Railway. Here is his reply to me:
I’m Jerry. Boy what a surprise! I had not thought about those days for a long time. I don’t recall the name but I was only a boy at the time. I do remember Leningrad. There was a couple my dad knew. The man’s name was Steve. My father rented the apartment from them. I do recall getting scarlet fever and spending 36 days in a Russian hospital. The doctor wanted to send me to a recoup hospital in southern Ukraine but my father and I said NO, because the Germans were pounding at the city’s doors about 45 miles away. We went back to Yaroslav where my dad was a research chemist for the paint factory National Lead (Dutch Boy paint who my dad worked for in the states) which was contracted by Russia to build the paint factory and they sent my father to head the chemistry lab. We sailed by boat (the Stavanger Fjord) to Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand, then by car to Arundel where I was dropped off to live with his mother. I loved Norway and all my aunts and uncles. Stayed there until the Germans invaded in April 1940, went to Oslo in December, and went to Stockholm. I met my dad and then by plane to Helsinki, Riga, Moscow and by rail to Yaroslav where my father and I finished out his 5 year contract. Back and forth Petrograd and Yaroslav then a 7 day ride on the Trans-Siberian Express to Vladivostok, boat to Japan, narrow gauge train to Tokyo then Japanese boat [ Heian Maru] to Seattle. Shucks that all for now!
Thus began an email friendship!